Life in a Federal Prison Camp
Doing time is hard but not impossible.
I spent 29 months in a federal prison camp. 18 months in Atlanta, Georgia and 11 months in Edgefield, South Carolina. It is not something I am proud of obviously but it is a fact and I feel compelled to share with the world the truth about what actually goes on in that environment. Some of it you might find pretty shocking.
My crime is of little importance, suffice it to say that it was "white Collar" hence the sentencing to a camp environment but I can tell you that it was not at all what I expected it to be, given the preconceived notions that are in existence out there.
First of all, the notion of "Club Fed" is a farce. Despite what you might have read or seen on sixty minutes, there is no place where those convicted of federal crimes go to "Hang Out" in a spa environment, play tennis or work out with weights all day. It simply doesn't exist.
There are exercise machines but they are very basic in nature. There is a 1/4 track and I would estimate that walking is in fact the number one form of exercise. The is a softball diamond and a basketball court but again all of these are certainly very "bare bones", nothing that I would consider "state of the art" or very costly.
Please understand that I see nothing wrong with this, after all, prison is punishment and I see no reason why inmates, myself included should be afforded any frills. I do however think that it isn't a bad idea to give at least the basics as far as recreational activity considering that some 500 men, with a criminal bent already, are being held in one place for very long periods of time and given the opportunity to participate in some sort of recreational activity would, I believe, be preferable to the alternative, leaving them to entertain themselves.
While there is no "Club Fed" or at least nothing of that sort that I was exposed to, there is a really serious problem in this country with a legal system that has gone haywire and often hands down mandatory sentences to men like myself who would have been better served continuing to work and required to pay a large fine. My prison stay benefited no one.
Sadly, Judges no longer have the authority to "judge" making a decision on the bench or the flexibility to be lenient in a case where it makes sense even to "throw the book" at someone when it doesn't . All sentences now, at least in the case of Federal crimes, an ever expanding category, are handed down now on the basis of Federal sentencing guidelines, thereby eliminating the old method of letting the punishment fit the crime.
This has caused the prison population throughout the country to swell to unimaginable numbers and placed a burden on the Bureau of Prisons to cope with the ever expanding growth rate. That said, if there ever was a time or place where "white collar" criminals went to do easy time, that place simply no longer exists.
What does exist is corruption and abuses of the system at its highest. I entered the Atlanta Federal Prison Camp on October 27, 2004 and it took me no less than a few days to learn that I could leave the camp each night if I so desired, have a drink any night of the week if I so chose and even enjoy the company of a lady of the evening once a week if that was what I wanted. In short, Atlanta was a "wild west town" where basically anything went.The guards for the most part were corrupt and could be paid to produce anything from drugs, to liquor, to female companionship and would readily do so upon request.
There are three kinds of guards in Federal Prison, those who are really pretty good men, they want to help where they can and understand that the charges against a lot of inmates are ridiculous and that they have no business in prison. They just want to help them get through their time and move on. Then there are those who are strictly in it for themselves and are out to milk every dollar out of the experience that they can. Finally there are those who are in a nutshell, sadistic jerks who are on a power trip and want to see just how much pain they can inflict on some poor soul who has become subject to their tyranny. Unfortunately, I experienced each of the personalities and I have to tell you that numbers two and three were to say the least nauseating.
I personally witnessed instances in which guards, even supervisors took money from inmates in exchange for favors such as being let out for several hours, allowing a hooker to visit the camp, or looking the other way as drugs and alcohol were smuggled in.
I saw with my own eyes, food meant for inmates, in large quantities, being unloaded from a truck in the front, passed through the kitchen storage area and loaded out the back door into a supervisors car and hauled away. There were similar instances of building materials, tools, etc. bought and paid for with tax dollars leaving the camp with guards in their personal vehicles never to return.
Prepaid cell phones were a booming business. Prohibited in the camp, they were smuggled in by guards almost daily and sold to the highest bidder who would then in turn sell them to another inmate or sell use of the phone as an ongoing business.
In essence, they had a foolproof racket. No inmate, no matter how spotless, would dare try to tell anyone in authority because you never knew who could be trusted and who couldn't and there was the constant fear or retaliation. No one wanted to go the solitary, get shipped out to another institution or worse. It simply wasn't worth it. There was no reward for inmate honesty.
The corruption ran unchecked from the day I arrived until the day I left the Atlanta Camp and while it has been a few years now since I was there, I dare say the chances are very good that it still does today. The Edgefield facility however was a different story. During my 11 month stay there, I can honestly say that I saw nothing more serious than an overzealous guard picking on an inmate here and there and none of the corruption to which I had become accustomed in Atlanta. Lest someone think I am just an angry ex inmate with an axe to grind. I can only speak of what I witnessed and I simply did not see it in Edgefield.
I spent no time in any other facility and cannot speak with authority about what might or might not have gone on at any other camp in the system. I am sure it is possible that Atlanta is an exceptional case, although I truly believe that the odds are against that. Even still, were Atlanta the exception, It stands as a classic example of corruption that should in some way be exposed and corrected. The major questions remains however how?
The sad truth is, the BOP, like so many other swollen federal agencies simply doesn't know how to fix the problem and limited resources and apathy on the part of lawmakers with regard to prison reform only serve to compound it. So it continues for a yet undetermined amount of time and guys like me, who know for a fact it exists write about it here.
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